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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 01:49 am

No crying in the wind

Rulings indicate that Sierra Club arguments may be legitimate

Seirra Club on a roll

The Sierra Club is on a roll.

The environmental-advocacy organization is using its clout to hold up the construction of at least four proposed coal-fired power plants in Illinois and in recent weeks has achieved several victories, and suffered just one defeat.

The biggest win came on Thursday, Oct. 5, when the U.S. Environmental Appeals Board tossed out developer David Maulding’s appeal of City Water, Light & Power’s plans for a new 200-megawatt coal-fired plant.

The action clears the way for the city and the Sierra Club to resurrect their landmark agreement in which CWLP agrees to purchase wind energy and apply greater pollution controls and energy-conservation measures.

On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the City Council’s five-member public-utilities committee was scheduled to consider three ordinances put forth by Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager to re-enact the provisions of the Sierra Club agreement. (The meeting came after Illinois Times went to press.)

Having the Maulding appeal struck down was the most recent in a series of wins for the Sierra Club, which objects to every coal-fired power plant that is proposed, anywhere in the nation.

“There’s a complete lack of federal leadership on doing anything about global warming,” says Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Midwest Clean Energy Campaign, “so we have some states that are doing some great things to cut global warming and then there are some states that are doing nothing right now, like Illinois.”

In 2003, the Sierra Club and several local groups appealed Indeck Energy Services’ draft permit for a 660-megawatt coal-fired plant in Will County, arguing that the facility might endanger plants and wildlife in the nearby Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

That matter, too, went before the U.S. EPA appeals-board, which in late September referred the issue back to the Illinois EPA. Nilles says that puts Indeck back at square one.

“What the Indeck decision really does for us in terms of Springfield is gives our argument for protecting public health a little more credibility and shows that we’re not just crying in the wind here,” says Becki Clayborn, a Midwest regional representative for the Sierra Club.

Springfield’s publicly owned utility is ahead of the game because CWLP has decided to make these improvements on its own, outside the courts, Clayborn adds.

“We have the federal environmental appeals board agreeing with us that these permits can be better,” she says, “so for anyone that was wondering if we were just doing this to be troublemakers, this should hopefully quell those fears. Hopefully people will realize that we really are doing this protect public health and we’re not the only ones who think it’s important.”

Two years ago, CWLP applied for an air permit from the Illinois EPA, and the City Council approved a 34 percent rate increase to fund the half-billion-dollar project last fall.

By 2009, CWLP officials speculate, building a new generator would be less expensive than continuing to operating the utility’s two oldest Lakeside Units.

The Sierra Club also held up EnviroPower’s plans for a 534-megawatt coal-fired generator near Benton, in southern Illinois, by filing a lawsuit arguing that EnviroPower’s IEPA permit expired before the company broke ground.

A trial, originally scheduled for August, has twice been pushed back. As a result, EnviroPower officials don’t expected to have the plant online by 2009, as they’d hoped.

Nilles expects a decision on summary judgment to dispose of the case sometime this week. Otherwise, the trial begins on Oct. 30.

The Sierra Club did suffer one setback, however.

Near Marissa, Peabody Energy Corp.’s plans for a 1,500-megawatt facility, which had been stalled at the Illinois Pollution Control Board, are going ahead, at least for now.

Nilles says the Sierra Club has until the middle of November to appeal in district court but has not made a final decision.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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